Sunday School: What’s Going On?

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Every year, it seems, we hear another round of predictions that the Sunday school is about to die, another round of warnings of the futility of “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” another series of laments over “the most wasted hour of the week.” And in striking contrast we also hear grand declarations that “a new day has dawned” and that the Sunday school has entered an era of unprecedented advance. Both extremes are likely to be erroneous.

The Sunday school has its problems. The low esteem that many had for the church in general and the Sunday school in particular during the 1960s has engendered a mind-set against Sunday school for some people, particularly the young. Some still have the idea that Sunday school is only for elderly women and little children. Untrained teachers will doubtless continue to be a problem for years to come. Many ministers are less than enthusiastic in their support of the Sunday school, although research indicates that strong leadership from the pastor is a must for a church school to grow in both quality and quantity. Satisfaction with the status quo and resistance to change continue to be problems for many schools.

But there is a brighter side. While Sunday schools of some mainline denominations continue to decline in attendance, those in evangelical denominations appear to be steadily growing. Southern Baptist Sunday-school enrollment has increased by over 40,000 in the last two years, a small percentage when compared to total enrollment but significant numerical growth. Fundamentalist, independent Sunday schools are growing rapidly, spurred on by hopes of making “the top 100” in an annual poll. Interdenominational evangelical publishers say that their sales of Sunday-school materials ...

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